Brawl in Cell Block 99

Checked out a new streaming movie Brawl in Cell Block 99. This is the new movie from the director of the horror western Bone Tomahawk, a movie a lot of people liked (of the few who saw it) but I thought was ok… but I was really impressed with this new movie. As the title suggests, this is a kind of grungy pulp fiction / grindhouse type movie… but it’s a lot more than that.
The film stars Vince Vaughn as a brooding, taciturn, quiet, methodical, intelligent, yet quietly brutal man. It focuses heavily on him, giving him time to think and to simmer in his rage, his hesitancy at using violence, his desire to not speak or bow to foolish authority. It’s a long movie and a lot of it is made up of just watching Vaughn’s character consider his options before lashing out verbally or sometimes violently.
In the film, Vaughn plays a down-on-his-luck guy who eventually gives in and becomes a drug runner for a local thug. Things go wrong, he winds up in prison, and is then given an ultimatum he can’t reject. A lot of the film is just slow, single takes or minute to minute scenes. It presents a fairly realistic prison environment… that is, until it doesn’t. The movie feels believable until it naturally and without melodrama descends into a pulpy B prison movie. You know, the brutal warden, the sadistic guards, the prisoners with extra authority.
Everything I say about Vaughn’s character also describes the movie… brooding, taciturn, quiet, methodical, intelligent, and quietly brutal. For a movie called Brawl in Cell Block 99, you’d think it’d spent more time in prison but it takes its time getting there. And, even then, it takes its time getting to the brawl in question. There’s some solid action in the film, mostly filmed at a distance so we can see Vaughn just go to town on his opponents. It’s not stylish action, it’s as matter-of-fact and methodical as the character and the movie. It’s also exceedingly violent but only in quick, matter-of-fact moments of brutality. It earns an R rating, that’s for sure.
I was surprised by how into this film I was. It was partly just Vince Vaughn playing a real character you don’t normally see him play. It was partly the surprising reserve of the movie before it gets violent… and it was how the violence was presented. I’m not saying this movie is for everyone, but I sure was compelled to watch it.
Score: 87

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